From the Past to the Present and towards Possible Futures: The Collected Works of Norbert Elias

Norbert Elias


Friday 20 - Sunday 22 June 2014


College Court Conference Centre
Knighton Road
Sat Nav - LE2 3TQ


Registration for this conference is now closed.

Conference Overview

"One cannot ignore the fact that every present society has grown out of earlier societies and points beyond itself to a diversity of possible futures."

"Today we have basically lost the ability to think of a future. Most people do not want to go beyond their present – they do not like to see themselves as a link in the chain of generations" – Norbert Elias, 1987.

In 2014 the eighteenth and final volume of the Collected Works of Norbert Elias in English will be published by University College Dublin Press.

The mammoth undertaking, in association with the Norbert Elias Foundation, Amsterdam, and under the stewardship of Professor Stephen Mennell, has taken a decade to bring to fruition. It brings together the entire corpus of Elias’s works, featuring many writings previously unpublished or not hitherto translated into English, faithfully representing his core ideas and his overall sociological position.

The conference marking the completion of the whole project will appropriately be held at the University of Leicester, where Elias lived and taught from 1954 to 1977. It both honours Elias’s association with the University of Leicester, and recognises the widespread, international and interdisciplinary interest in his work, and its resurgence within the University and more generally within the human sciences.

The conference will be organised around some of Elias’s key works: On the Process of Civilisation; What is Sociology?; The Established and the Outsiders; Quest for Excitement; and Essays I: On the Sociology of Knowledge and the Sciences.

Despite its focus on the Collected Works of Elias, the spirit of this event is one of openness to, and dialogue with, competing sociological positions. It will pose questions including:

  • How might Elias’s work be employed to address some of the challenges of the human sciences in the twenty-first century?
  • Elias was not a sociologist in the narrow sense: he aimed at a grand sociological, historical, psychological synthesis. Did he succeed?
  • To what extent does Elias’s work provide a means of redressing the fragmentation of the human sciences and, especially, reintegrating sociologists who have intellectually migrated to different, increasingly diverse, specialisms and sub-disciplines?
  • Is Elias’s critique of sociologists’ ‘retreat into the present’ still valid today? What role might Elias’s work have in the more general ‘relational turn’ that has become a major topic of discussion in recent years?
  • Is it possible to reconcile Elias’s ‘figurational’ sociological practice – marked by its emphasis on long-term processes and its caution regarding the intrusion of ‘heteronomous values’ – with the institutional demands for short-term ‘impact’, ‘accountability’, and the increasing emphasis on the short-term practical and monetary value of social scientific research for specific ‘user groups’?
  • Can Elias’s approach be squared with recent calls for a more ‘public’ sociology, and indeed, more explicitly politically-involved and directed ‘partisan’ scholarship’?

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Further Information

For further information regarding The Collected Works of Norbert Elias, see the UCD Press website



The From the Past to the Present and towards Possible Futures: The Collected Works of Norbert Elias is sponsored by:

University of Leicester

Norbert Elias Foundation

The Sociological Review